“You’re making the worst decision of your life. Letting me go will cripple this company. You can’t operate without me and you’ll quickly discover that. You’re screwed mate.”
Sacking the guy who headed up a small team in another country was a tough decision for me. It was the late 1990s and the business unit he managed contributed nearly 20% of total company revenue and earnings and was an important growth engine in our future plans. But I didn’t trust him anymore. He’d become slack and while he talked a good game the performance of the business was declining. Worst still he thought that his behaviour had passed unnoticed. He operated on the principle of being ‘out of sight and out of mind’ but it was all a house of cards that eventually collapsed on him.
One of his assertions was right, however. Within a month all the other employees had left the business (either fired or resigned) leaving us with the headache of no staff but with an operating business to run. We were crippled. Or at least we were for a time. I immediately shut the doors, redirected all phone numbers, email addresses and mail to our Australian office and sent two of our senior team over to talk to suppliers and customers and to explain how we were restructuring the business.
For five months we ran the business without a local presence but strangely the business got better. Over time we pieced together what had gone on under the previous regime and not much of it was good. What we discovered was that it was a lazy, complacent environment run by a guy who worked from 10-2, at best, with the rest of the team playing follow the leader. The signs were there but we had missed (or ignored) them. So we started again and within six months had established a brand new team and the business hasn’t looked back since. It was an experience that I wouldn’t want to repeat too often but the right decision was made even if it resulted in some pain in the short term.
It’s easy to think that a business can’t run without you. And it’s even easier to give yourself too much credit for what a business has achieved. What I have learned is that no-one is irreplaceable and it’s a fair bet that there’s someone out there somewhere that’s better than you. Maybe quite a few who are.
The important thing to understand is that companies don’t care whether you are replaceable or not because they know that most people are. What they want is fairly simple – consistent great work and a great attitude. It’s no more complicated than that. These are the factors that increase your worth to an organisation. Perhaps the truth is that while no-one is irreplaceable some people are a helluva lot more valuable than others? I think so. The trick then is to move up the list…